PISCATAWAY, N.J. — It felt almost like an encore to a historic season, a curtain call.
It was chance for the Williamstown football team to break out a few of its greatest hits one last time on a grand stage.
Smothering defense. Precise smash-mouth offense.
A mobile, savvy quarterback. And monsters up-front on both sides of the ball.
“The main thing we have is trust. We trust each other, and so much of this season came down to the dedication and commitment that we put in every week,” running back Turner Inge said after his Braves beat Cherokee, 30-14, waltzing to Saturday’s Group 5 regional championship at Rutgers University.
The win capped a season in which Williamstown finished 12-1, winning its second straight South Jersey title and third overall.
It was vindication for a Braves team that lost the regional championship to Sayreville a year ago — the first year the NJSIAA held these games.
There’s still some question as to what a “regional” championship really means to players and programs. It’s a contest without the history of a sectional championship or the prestige and finality that a true state title would bring.
As one of the few programs that now has two of these games on its resume, Williamstown seemed emphatic in its approach.
“This is big, this is really, really big,” Inge said. “We had a goal since the end of last season. The seniors last year went out on a bad note, losing to Sayreville. We knew since that game ended we wanted to come here and make it right. That was our goal, and we completed it.”
Inge played his best game of the season, leading Williamstown with 20 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Dougie Brown added 77 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
It didn’t take long for Williamstown to establish control.
On their opening drive, the Braves marched 45 yards in seven plays — despite two false starts — ending in a 3-yard score by Inge.
Brody Colbert escaped for a 26-yard touchdown on Williamstown’s second drive to give the Braves a 14-0 lead.
There wasn’t much drama to speak of after that.
Cherokee (6-7) didn’t score until late in the third quarter when it capitalized on a Williamstown muffed punt. That drive ended ended 18-yard touchdown pass from Billy Osborn to Caden Burti to make the score 23-7. The Chiefs were never within two scores and generated just 112 yards of total offense.
“This is the best feeling,” Brown said. “We came into the game saying we were just going to pound the rock and take it to them. And that’s how it went.”
For the Chiefs, which lost to Williamstown, 24-7 on Oct. 11, the season was historic in its own right, marked by an improbable turnaround and championship run.
Cherokee won just a one game last year. The Chiefs were 3-5 this year entering the playoffs before a playoff run fueled largely by the breakout play of Osborn, a junior quarterback who broke Cherokee’s single-season passing record while leading the Chiefs to a South Jersey championship in a win over Kingsway.
“We wanted to fight every single play, and I think we did that,” said Osborn, who is part of a very strong group of returning players for Cherokee. “Not a lot of people had faith in us after last season. But we were able to turn it around.”
Williamstown 13 3 7 7 — 30
Cherokee 0 0 7 7 — 14
W: Turner Inge 3 run (Brendan Amico kick)
W: Brody Colbert 26 run (kick failed)
W: Amico 30 field goal
W: Inge 3 run (Amico kick)
C: Caden Burti 18 pass from Billy Osborn (Nick Sirianni kick)
W: Dougie Brown 1 run (Amico kick)
C: Ty Bartrum 3 pass from Osborn (Sirianni kick)